All Articles Marketing Digital Technology Live from SXSW: Building strong online communities

Live from SXSW: Building strong online communities

3 min read

Digital Technology

Though SXSW Interactive is now history, the film is still rolling and the bands are just loading in. We’re here for the duration of the festival, and we will continue to bring you social media insights and word-of-mouth-marketing ideas from the music and film industry worlds. There’s a lot of creative stuff buzzing around down here.

But first, some takeaways from yesterday’s excellent community building panel hosted by Ken Fisher of Ars Technica.

  • Only 4% of Ars Technica readers visit their forums, so getting feedback from the other 96% is hard. Twitter gives you a view into the less active members of your community.
  • Consider using community as a means to outsource tech support and customer service. Other members of the community will respond to the questions and feedback.
  • Give people a place where they can criticize you, even though total transparency can lead to flame wars. Even if people dogpile you in a public way, it’s still worth it. If they’re that upset, you know you have an issue to address.
  • By letting their users have the tools, Alexis Ohanian and his team at Reddit use community to “set their brand free.” “Up and down voting is the mighty sword.”
  • Handling reader feedback personally doesn’t scale, but it does pay off. Ohanian does it all through e-mail “as unhip as that is,” he says. “People’s expectations online are so incredibly low.” Personally reaching out makes you stand out and yields community dividends.
  • What do you look for in a community manager? A level-headed, calm person with endless patience. Someone with grace who can remain as neutral as possible. A multitasker.
  • Since communities are not one-size-fits-all, there are lots of different moderating and chaos-herding practices. Blogher, for example, has strict community guidelines that make it a safe place for women to voice their opinions. During the election, Erin Kotecki Vest and her team had both Carly Fiorina and Michelle Obama blogging. Their community debate got heated but remained civil, thanks to rigid guidelines and a policy of immediately e-mailing transgressors. Ars Technica, meanwhile, clearly states the rules and cites them when they’re broken. Their volunteer community moderators call it out when they take something down, so their community knows they’re not capricious. Also, they try and rehabilitate those in breech, issuing a number of temporary bans before permanently banning offenders. The door always remains open for the reformed to come back. Fark has a nark function for the community to self-monitor. Reddit, on the other hand, leaves it all up there.

Community rules of thumb:

  • Ask rather than tell
  • Tell the community when change is happening.
  • Don’t troll your own readers.
  • Don’t listen to your community too much. At some point, it’s totally fair to say to them “You’ll get over it.” Listen to your core users, but trust your gut.
  • Discount a certain amount of grousing and don’t take things personally. Factor out stuff out that’s external to your product/service.
  • Don’t flame people or be vindictive. That sends a negative message to your audience.
  • Share survey results with your audience.

Closing thought: “Do yourself a favor and have a conversation on your site.” – Alexis Ohanian,